Garstang’s flagship Fair Trade Centre is fighting to secure its future amid uncertainty over its current home.
The centre’s directors this week issued an urgent plea for financial support and unveiled ambitious proposals for a community buy-out of the Fig Tree.
Spokesman and centre director Bruce Crowther said: “The long-term future of The Fig Tree at its present location in Garstang is under threat. In response, our directors propose a community buy-out of the premises.”
The intention is to change the status of the educational resource and cafe, which is located in the former Wyre Council building off the High Street, from a community interest company to a co-operative.
Bruce warned that, if uncertainty over its tenure with its Council landlord cannot be resolved, the centre could move out of Wyre.
The centre opened in 2011 as the world’s first international Fair Trade Centre, and has welcomed thousands of visitors from home and abroad.
Bruce said: “In order to proceed with this purchase we will need as much support as we can get.”
Wyre Council confirmed: “We are in discussion over future tenancy arrangements, but it is too early to say what’s happening.”
According to Mr Crowther, shares will cost £50 each, and the directors stress only expressions of interest are invited at this stage. Investments of £50 to £20,000 are invited.
Garstang has attained fame as the world’s first Fair Trade town.
Mr Crowther, who describes The Fig Tree as “an enormous success” and “a small evolving social enterprise with huge global ambitions” said they had learned the council intended doing an “asset review” on the building, which was was home to the council’s tourism Discovery Centre and offices.
He predicted if the council was not getting enough income from rent the building could be sold.
Mr Crowther met representatives from the Town Council earlier this week.
Meanwhile, a meeting is planned with Michael Ryan, Wyre Council’s head of People and Places, on September 10 which will be attended by Fig Tree directors, a representative of Wyre MP Ben Wallace, and Town Council representatives. Other tenants of the building will also be welcomed.
Mr Crowther said: “Our lease runs out next November, and it’s unlikely our lease will be renewed. We have made it clear if we can’t find somewhere in Garstang we’re not staying in Wyre borough. This place does not belong in Poulton, Cleveleys or Fleetwood.”
He said Lancaster was a likely preferred option, but stressed: “We’re still here. We’re proud of that fact. We think we’re offering a great service.”
Since June last year, the centre has welcomed 22,000 visitors, said Mr Crowther, adding: “We’ve had visitors from Brazil, France, Germany, Poland, Korea, Norway, Sweden and Japan. I think we’ve demonstrated how successful we are.”
He said the centre pays £2,175 in rent and a £1,176 service charge quarterly, plus business rates of £1,592 a year: “About 25% of our income goes to Wyre Borough Council.”
He predicted: “The Fig Tree model will change from a community interest company to become a co-operative registered as a ‘Society for the Benefit of the Community’.